Edinburgh dog fouling: DNA testing ruled out, but 'under cover' patrols being considered

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Council chiefs in Edinburgh have ruled out taking DNA from dog poo to track down owners who fail to pick up - but now they are looking at using “under cover” council officers to catch the irresponsible pet owners.

The dog DNA idea was suggested after the Capital was named last year as the  worst place in the UK for dog fouling. The council enquired about making use of what is understood to be the only dog DNA database in the UK, known as PooPrints, but concluded it would not be cost-effective.

Plain-clothes council officers could be deployed to catch irresponsible dog owners.Plain-clothes council officers could be deployed to catch irresponsible dog owners.
Plain-clothes council officers could be deployed to catch irresponsible dog owners.

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Transport and environment convener Scott Arthur said: "A fine for dog folding must be issued within seven days. PooPrints is based in Knoxville, Tennessee, so we would have to post the poo to America - and I'm not even sure about the legalities of that - at the cost of £100 per sample for testing and then hope that we got the result within seven days in order to issued an £80 fine."

Councils have no powers to require people to register their dogs. Cllr Arthur said that only people who had registered their dog's DNA on the  system could be identified.  "And the people who allow their dog to foul all over the place are not the kind of people who are going to register their dog for their DNA - and it costs £50 to do so."

A report to the council's transport and environment committee on Thursday June 20 estimates that using PooPrints for dog DNA sampling would cost around £100,000 and adds that it does not "appear practicable" to do so.

Instead, the report says: "Currently, the most effective means of tackling dog fouling at source is through the street enforcement team and targeted communications campaigns. For example, a small scale dog fouling campaign in a targeted area such as Leith Links would cost in the region of £800."

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Street enforcement officers - the council staff who police the dog fouling problem - can only issue fines if they witness the offence or get a statement from someone else who witnessed it.  And the report floats the possibility of "plain clothes patrols" to catch irresponsible dog-owners.  The council has to get approval under the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act for such "under cover" operations.  One official said: "There's not many people who would let their dog foul in front of a very clearly uniformed officer." 

But the report notes: “Previous patrols carried out in plain clothes did not produce a significant increase in fixed penalty notices."  Cllr Arthur said: "Dog fouling is absolutely unacceptable. It's a minority of dog-owners that give all dog-owners a bad name where this is concerned and often it's responsible dog-owners who get most upset by the problem. 

"It's right that we looked at the DNA suggestion, but it's just not viable at this point in time. We need to reassure the public the council is working with existing powers and resources to tackle the problem.  People can report dog fouling online and where hotspots are identified the council will investigate."

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